John Grogan’s latest Inquirer column highlights the unrepresentative nature of what we often call “public opinion”:

I caught a blistering earful from readers across the country after I criticized Michael Berg last week for denouncing the U.S. air strike that killed the terrorist who beheaded his son.
Two guided bombs dropped near Baghdad this month took out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the man believed to have personally executed Nick Berg, 26, in Iraq in 2004.
Michael Berg, a vocal pacifist and Green Party candidate for Congress, believes any killing, even that of a remorseless mass murderer, is unjustified and only perpetuates the endless cycle of eye-for-an-eye violence.
He said George Bush was no less a terrorist than Osama bin Laden. He said he would have sentenced his son’s killer to community service in a children’s hospital.
I called the elder Berg, formerly of West Chester and now living in Delaware, a naive idealist and said some people, the most evil among us, will be stopped by only death.
Boy, did I hear about it.
Of the dozens of letters I received, most faulted me for being overly hard on a grief-stricken father and blind to the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Many angrily voiced their disgust over the falsely justified and monumentally botched war.
Typical was Diane Vernon of Ambler, who wrote: “This time you have gone WAY, WAY too far. Can’t you see that forgiveness is part of healing?”

It goes on and on.
Obviously, this Bush-is-worse-than-Zarqawi meme has some adherents, but in the real world they are in a small minority. That’s why Michael Berg’s candidacy is pretty much a joke. (Very much a joke, actually. Even Democrat challenger Dennis Spivack has little chance against a “seven-term incumbent who won the last election with 69 percent of the vote.” Berg seems mainly to be helping the Green Party achieve greater visibility.)
I think the kind of people who would write letters to columnists are not representative of public opinion, so much as they represent vocal, hard-core activist opinion. Ordinary people (the kind who vote), most likely rolled their eyes when they read the railings of Michael Berg in John Grogan’s first column. They wouldn’t even think of wasting their time writing in. Even I — opinionated though I am, and even though I wrote about Michael Berg in this blog — never gave a thought to writing to Mr. Grogan.
People I have known who are familiar with the talk radio business have told me that actual callers represent a small percentage of actual listeners, and I think the same holds true for blog commenters. On a typical day, a small fraction of one percent of visitors here will leave a comment. Whether a commenter agrees with me or not, it would be a big mistake for me to think that a single comment spoke for most of my readers.
Considering the Philadelphia Inquirer’s circulation (plus the fact that John Grogan is a popular columnist and best-selling author) I doubt a few dozen letters (or emails) are a fair representation of his readers.
Of course, this may beg the question of who represents anyone. I don’t think I represent anyone except myself, and considering the arguments I have with myself, I’m not sure I do all that great a job with self representation.
I mean, what about that part of me which doesn’t argue with me, but just goes along with my “flow”? My inner minority is the loud part, which clamors to be heard — often over my great, silent, lazy majority, which would rather not be writing anything at all. So my blogger side may not be speaking fairly on behalf of the live-and-let-live side of myself. How do I fairly represent my unrepresented self?
(Silence might be misinterpreted as agreement.)